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Facilitate the Wild : Encouraging Primal Balance In Your K9

As a dog trainer I field questions such as these daily:

'Can you make my dog stop chasing deer?'

'How do I get my dog to stop biting me?'

'My dog doesn't come when called...instead prefers the game of chase - why is that?'

'UGH they are out of control and never listen to me!'

Bite work, bite sport, protection dog

We all have dogs in our lives for different reasons and I am not here to say 1 reason is better than another...but it IS important to remember that dogs are dogs. They come in different flavors and varieties while being subject to genetics and drive...but at the end of the day they are all individuals and they are all animals. Incredibly smart and perceptive animals with a tremendous capacity to do really neat things when encouraged to do so.

Now let me say that I train ALL my dogs to be obedient and have clarity on manners and I help my clients to achieve those goals as well...but what I don't want is for us humans to forget to encourage the wild in our K9s from time to time... (or ourselves for that matter)

Think of a dog in the wild. Their day to day would be filled with hunting, tracking and eating. It would also be filled with respecting structure, being a part of a pack unit and lots of play. The full use of their senses, brain and drives would be at full throttle and constantly exercised.

Lets call this a balanced primal K9.

Now contrast this to the life of our domestic dogs. <- That sentence should not be stated to make you feel guilty. Our domestic dogs are different from their wild ancestors and totally love being with us. I simply want everyone to think differently about how to achieve pack harmony at home and consider that there is still wild in their genes. Sometimes the best solution to issues (like the questions stated in the beginning) is a combination of good training/structure AND an outlet that allows the beast to be a beast...My preliminary answers to the above questions sometimes go like this:

'Can you make my dog stop chasing deer?' - Sure! Want to also learn how to GIVE your dog something specific to track?

'How do I get my dog to stop biting me?' Well...lets give him something TO bite. Teach him the game of bite with a tug toy while making biting you less interesting.

'My dog doesn't come when called...instead prefers the game of chase - why is that?' Because your dog has trained chasing is way more fun than promptly returning to your side...

'UGH they are out of control and never listen to me!' This is not done out of malice...they just have yet to learn HOW to listen or more importantly WHY to listen. It will also be really hard to get them to listen if they don't think they will EVER get to do that other fun stuff (track, bite, hunt, play). Think less about saying No all the time...and more about showing them a preferable YES (especially with puppies).

Even in working dog industry I have seen the power of instituting this concept of 'primal balance'. Everyone LOVES the K9 bite work stuff. It is exciting to watch I get it. Heck I am even one of those weirdos who really enjoys putting the suit on and getting chewed up:

bite work, bite sport, protection dog

But when I see dogs twisted up with drive through the roof for a bite with difficulty letting go of a toy or a decoy - sometimes the fix is focusing on something tracking... that brings them back to center overall and promotes higher levels of thinking.

tracking dog, search and rescue, manhunting

***SIDE NOTE - In my opinion tracking helps every facet of training improve. No other discipline teaches nose over eyes while allowing K9 to take point and lead the human. That empowerment creates tremendous confidence in the dog that will ripple through other disciplines : bite work, obedience, scent detection etc.

This sense of primal balance is not just reserved for the K9. How good does running in the sun feel after a day sitting inside at a desk? How about that sense of recharge after yoga or hitting the gym?

Climb a mountain, kayak a river, hunt, play frisbee, gather with friends around a fire without your phone...These are primal practices that promote presence and connect us back to our animal selves...Now lets do that regularly for our K9s.

'Ok... track with my dog, give them things to bite, let them be wild...

I have no idea how to do those things.'

***Shameless plug : all those disciplines are taught at RYP***

But you don't need to think that specifically about reconnecting your K9 to their primal selves. ANYTHING that promotes hunting, tracking, biting, playing is fantastic. You may be doing a lot of this already! Throw the ball for them - then at some point throw it into high grass and make them hunt for it using their nose (key here let them hunt...don't help them figure it out.) Play tug of war with them and promote biting on a favorite toy that ONLY comes out for that game. Heck, even toss a big raw meaty bone in the back yard...let them chew, tear and gnaw on their food. Not only will they get a meal they will pass out from euphoria when they are done (I call those bones babysitters because it keeps my crew occupied for hours. For newbies to raw feeding please EASE the dog into eating these things...consult the google machine for instruction on raw introduction.)

Key thing to keep in mind for every dog. They are animals. They will create their own adventures that promote hunt, track, chase, bite and play if we do not show them the adventures that we prefer...see 16 week old Oaken here:

dutch shepherd, obedience

He has been holding this down for about 20 minutes while I prepare lunch, do dishes and consolidate recycling. Even though he gets intermittently rewarded for holding this down position, as a dutch shepherd, he would MUCH rather jump on the counter and eat that food, climb all over the dish washer and full on tackle the stack of boxes...but he respectfully listens to his commands and shows restraint - knowing full well that LATER we will be facilitating his wild. For him it will biting a bite sleeve after running through obstacles, tracking in the woods and chasing a ball in the backyard. Moral of the story - dogs are dogs. They are not accessories, they are not spiteful/ego driven and most importantly they are not robots designed to fit the mold of societies perception of 'a perfect dog.' They are animals that love to play, chase, bite, hunt and be a part of a familiar pack unit. That being said consider how you can facilitate the wild in your K9 to encourage a primal balance in their life...

...while your at it - run barefoot, get muddy and howl at the moon with might just love it...

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